Tue 19 Apr 2022

Legend Loeb back in Puma for Portugal

Rallye Monte-Carlo winner Sébastien Loeb will return to M-Sport Ford for next month’s FIA World Rally Championship round in Portugal.

The British squad confirmed on Tuesday that the Frenchman and co-driver Isabelle Galmiche will crew a Ford Puma Rally1 on the first gravel fixture of the new hybrid era at Vodafone Rally de Portugal (19 - 22 May).

Loeb became the oldest winner of a WRC round at 47 when he grabbed a breathtaking Monte-Carlo victory from the under the nose of old foe Sébastien Ogier in January’s season-opener.

The nine-time world champion, starting his first WRC event for more than a year, sealed his eighth Monte win after a thrilling duel with his fellow countryman in the French Alps.

Galmiche, a 50-year-old schoolteacher making her first top-tier start, became the first female winner of a WRC fixture since 1997.

Entries for Portugal close at midnight on Tuesday and although Toyota Gazoo Racing has not yet confirmed its line-up, speculation links Ogier with a second outing of the season to renew battle with his arch-rival.

M-Sport Ford will field five cars at the Matosinhos-based event with Loeb joining Craig Breen, Adrien Fourmaux, Gus Greensmith and Pierre-Louis Loubet.

Loeb, who won in Portugal in 2007 and 2009, last tackled the technical gravel roads in the north and centre of the country three years ago. He said the timing of this year’s rally fitted his multi-discipline schedule.

“Portugal was an empty space in my calendar and it’s a gravel rally, I have competed on this version of the rally in 2019 so I have a base of pace notes from some of the stages.

“That was one of the reasons for choosing Portugal. The other was I wanted to do a gravel rally. I like driving on gravel so it was a very straightforward choice,” he added.

The emotions of January’s success remain fresh in his mind.

“Driving the Puma is one of my favourite rally memories – winning Monte Carlo after such a long time was incredible. The team worked really well, with a quick fix to the difficulties we faced at shakedown, allowing us to claim our 80th rally win,” Loeb enthused.

“From my first test with this car, I immediately had a very good feeling and I enjoy driving with so much power with the hybrid system. It’s a great car, a great team and we celebrated an incredible moment together.”

Team principal Richard Millener said the Monte-Carlo memories were strong.

“Personally, to have another chance to work with Seb and Isabelle is a dream come true. The fact that they want to come and drive with us again is something incredibly special for the team and reflects all of the hard work being put in by everybody back home,” he added.

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